Any student who has been apart of Claremont Unified School District (CUSD) since elementary school would be able to recall the epitome of elementary school field trips: Riley’s Farm. In historical Oak Glen, California, visits to Riley’s Farm would entail a near hour-long bus ride buzzing with excited fifth graders and adult chaperones hoping their elementary schoolers learn at least something about American history.
Upon arrival, they would take to activities reminiscent of the revolutionary war, including battle simulations, eating a soldier’s ration for lunch (although bakery purchases are encouraged), and more. However, fifth graders hailing from CUSD will no longer be taking field trips to Riley’s Farm, because as of this year, CUSD is halting all elementary school trips to the attraction, and being sued for over $10 million as a result.
The entire decision to put an end to these field trips began when elementary parents noticed tweets posted by business owner James Patrick Riley’s personal twitter account, regarding his political views on white supremacy, terrorism, sexism, among other topics. Parents requested their children be excused from Riley’s Farm field trips. In response, the district made the decision to drop them altogether.
“Parents objected to posts in which Mr. Riley made misogynistic references to a woman’s ‘bosoms,’ compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the ISIS terrorist organization and made light of white supremacy,” District Court in Riverside said, according to Redlands Daily Facts (RDF), a local news outlet.
The collective refusal of CUSD alongside other nearby districts to no longer demonstrate support for Riley’s Farm has caused notable frustration for Riley, who made the decision to file a lawsuit against CUSD in federal court, according to the RDF article. He and his attorney, Thomas J. Eastmond, are attempting to sue on the grounds of Riley’s constitutionally protected speech. Blacklisting Riley’s Farm, they are arguing, is unconstitutional and violates first amendment rights.
“Private boycotts are fine,” Eastmond told RDF.
“Public agencies do not have that power,” he added. “Public agencies cannot retaliate against an employee or an independent contractor based on their exercise of free speech.”
The lawsuit requests $125,000 for damage to Riley’s reputation, $800,000 for mental and emotional distress, and nearly $10 million for future revenue lost. These charges, in part, were exacerbated by CUSD joining other school districts in their decision to no longer support the attraction.
Perhaps justified by the legal sensitivity surrounding the situation, superintendent Dr. Elsasser, nor anyone on behalf of CUSD, will comment on the matter thus far. Inevitably, CUSD may have to rethink their 5th-grade revolutionary war curriculum.